Crab-fishing Boats and Cliffhangers

EDIT: Thank you Beef for correcting me! I do this all the time…the correct movie is CHILDREN of Men, not City of Men. : )

My husband and I are slightly bizarre. We come up with catch phrases that no one else understands and that don’t, really, make that much sense. Like Crab-fishing Boat.

A few nights ago we were watching August Rush with my best friend and I told her, “It’s a good movie, but it’s totally a Crab-fishing Boat”. She looked at me like my nose had fallen off and now rested soundly on my chest. I tried to explain the history of our random phrase.

The hubby and I had watched City of Men and fell madly in love with the story. The characters were gritty, the action scenes were emotional, the whole set up was awe-inspiring. Until the end when Clive Owens died and a fucking crab-fishing boat picked up the only woman who’d gotten pregnant in decades. There was no ending!! No finality!! You didn’t know if the world became privy to the first pregnancy in forever…whether she and the baby lived or died…or if the fisherman used the baby to bait crabs!! It was the most disappointing ending to a movie I’d ever seen, and it is now banned from being watched in our home.

So from now on, an ending that isn’t really an ending is a Crab-fishing Boat.

It happens in novels, too. The story is going along nicely, you reach the climax, then BAM! mid-scene the book’s over. You’re left flipping through the author bio and rereading the last chapter thinking you missed something when in all reality some editor with a morbid sense of humor had decided that finishing that particular thought wouldn’t be prudent. Asshats I tell you. Asshats.

Whatever could I mean? *sifts through book shelves for a fabulous example of the source of my random tirade*

  • Danse Macabre by Laurell K Hamilton: “Maybe someday Richard will truly know what his heart needs. He’s dating humans exclusively. I’m the only preternatural he’s seeing. Richard has informed me he’s shopping for his white picket fence. I’m happy behind my black wrought-iron fence. The one with the pointy spikes on top. White never really was my color.”

Okay, so it’s not the best example ever, but it’s still a good one. Laurell is one of my most absolute favorite authors ever–even her later books which do peeve me off but are still stellar in every way possible–but her latest books tend to fall-off at the end. Her recaps cease being recaps and end in the Crab-fishing Boat. In other words, the questions she poses and emotions she delves into don’t always get answered. They’re still floating around, waiting for someone to pluck them out of the air and eat them.

I know the series isn’t over, but you can only hold off on answering them for so many books before it makes it look like you’re avoiding the question. Thus leaving me throwing the book and cursing about fences while my husband backs slowly out of the office.

On the other side of the ending-spectrum is the cliffhanger. No, not named after the frighteningly bad Stalone movie, but the normal, everyday sort of cliffhanger. As a whiny reader, these bother me as well while exciting me at the same time, but as a hopeful writer, I find that I can’t avoid them. After plotting out my new work in progress, I realized that the cliffhanger can’t be avoided. It’s either end the book after this huge life changing event, causing the book to end mid thought (I WILL NOT WRITE A CRAB-FISHING BOAT!!), or leave it immediately after the huge life changing event, still causing people (hopefully) to toss books and curse at inanimate objects.

Cliffhangers, though, have to be done just right. You can’t have the build up of a fight scene where your heroine and hero are doing everything they can to survive, and end it on (warning: horrible example and not part of my WIP) “The sword sliced into his flesh and beheaded him”–The End. Okay, so your bad guy is beheaded, but is he dead? Did someone else sneak up behind her and slice her open like a Thanksgiving turkey? The scene isn’t complete! It’s no longer a cliffhanger, it’s a crappy ending.

One of the best cliffhanging endings I’ve read recently came from Jennifer Rardin’s third book in the Jaz Park’s series, Biting the Bullet. Jaz is an assassin for the CIA, and her work has started affecting her family–her brother was attacked, her baby niece was threatened by demons, her father may have someone trying to assassinate him, her fiance and sister-in-law were murdered–you know, some pretty bad stuff. So at the end of the book she and her boss/possible love-interest Vayl are sitting down, unwinding (as much as you can) after their latest mission.

  • “The violence that formed the framework of my life had never before touched my family. But within just a few days it had nearly destroyed it. I looked into Vayl’s eyes. ‘This shit’s hitting too close to home,’ I whispered. ‘What do you want to do about it?’ I didn’t even have to think. ‘Hit back.’ “

*Rolls around on the floor in a melting pile of excitement* Do you see?? Do you see what I mean?? The scene is complete but you’re left with your mouth hanging to the floor screaming, “Come on, I wanna see what happens!”

Jeaniene Frost is also a master of the cliffhanger. I was broke, sick, and ready for bed when I finished Halfway to the Grave and I still wanted to crawl my way to the nearest bookstore to grab One Foot in the Grave. At the end of the book, Cat has left Bones, her vampire boyfriend, because she doesn’t want him to get hurt The government wants his head on a platter and she refuses to help them achieve their goal.

  • “And yet when I finally drifted off, in that barely conscious state where logic was absent and dreams encroached, I could almost hear Bones’svoice. He was whispering that same promise he’d made to me months ago when our relationship started, and I wondered if it was a sign–and if he’d really meant it. If you run from me, I’ll chase you. And I’ll find you…

*sigh* The cliffhanger is a wonderful and magical thing. It’s an element of writing that will always annoy and delight me in equal parts. Hopefully I can recreate the effects in my work. I don’t know what I’d do if someone read my books and muttered, “Freaking crab-fishing boats.”

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